Back to Back Issues Page
Baggins' Bites: Are Specialty Foods Really Special?
July 19, 2011
Dear Dog Lover,

I was in the library last week looking for something to read when a girl of about 9 or 10 popped out of the stacks and asked the librarian, “Do you have any books about dogs?”

The young librarian dutifully looked up her answer and responded, “Yes, we have 572.”

“Wow! That’s a lot of dog books!”

That got me to thinking – it’s kind of like when you go to the pet store to get dog food.

There are foods for dogs in every conceivable possibility.

Fat dogs, thin dogs, dogs who ride in the Tour de France, couch potato dogs who watch too much tv—I even saw that Royal Canin has 2 different types of food for chihuahuas, another 2 for Yorkshire terriers and yet still another dozen or so choices for “indoor, toy dogs”.

Do you think there’s some overlap there?

I started wondering if there were foods for dogs who were dominant left paw vs. right paw—you get the idea.

The question is, are all these “specialty” foods really that “special” or is this a marketing ploy along the lines of “would you like fries with that?”

Ask the Dog Expert

Dog nutrition expert Nancy Kerns wrote a 3 part series in Whole Dog Journal on this very topic. In her article she reminds us to read the dog food labels! After all, that’s where the “rubber meets the road”.

To her dismay to she found that some of the foods are not nutritionally all that for any dog—no matter the breed.

Furthermore, there are absolutely NO regulations to ensure one type of food is best for indoor, toy breeds vs. senior dogs.

In other words, yes, it’s all about the marketing.

In the United States there is only one regulatory body for pet food.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is an advisory committee made up of state feed control officials and representatives from the pet food industry. Essentially, their role is to make sure pet food meets minimum requirements to keep your animal alive and reasonably healthy.

The Bare Minimum?

Of course, you don’t just want the minimum requirements. You want nutrition to keep your dog happy, healthy and thriving.

So, what does that look like?

Ok, let’s get to the basics. Your dog needs a certain amount of fat and protein—just like you.

To achieve that goal, there are 2 variations on dog food—only two. Those are:

1) Food for “growth and reproduction values” – these foods have the higher levels of fat and protein needed for pregnant or nursing females and puppies.

2) “Adult maintenance” for everyone else—which may or may not have the right nutritional values for your pet.

That’s it.

In other words, the ONLY U.S. regulatory body say nothing about Cocker spaniels having different nutritional needs than German Shepherds. They will have different caloric needs based on size and lifestyle but that’s the same for any of us.

What Does That Ingredient List Mean Anyway?

It boils down to reading the ingredients label.

Labels list ingredients by weight so the heaviest ones are early on in the label. Less important ones are further down the list.

Is the first ingredient a protein like the ones you see here?

What are the next 3 ingredients?

A named meat is important yet fresh meat has a lot of water and is heavy. That means, by weight it can be as much as 75% water. To offset this “water weight”, you also want a supporting an animal protein “meal” to ensure your dog is getting enough protein.

Animal meal is a mix of bone, meat and connective tissue. It can be as much as 65% protein.

Look also for fruits and vegetables. Your dog needs the vitamins and nutrients found in sweet potatoes, berries, etc. That’s the basic ingredients to look for in your dog food.

Of course, this doesn’t address questions you may have about dog food allergies, grain free diets, or the rest but no matter what you’re feeding, the key is to observe your dog.

Does he have that happy sparkle in his eyes or is he lethargic and constantly itchy and chewing his paws? These can be symptoms of a challenged immune system or allergies.

You can learn more about the finer points of dog nutrition and get their annual dog food review by subscribing to Whole Dog Journal I highly recommend it.

Next week we’ll look at “senior” dog foods. Are they the best choice for your furry senior?

Yours in Treats and Health,

Jen & Sammy the best in dog treat recipes

P.S. Please join us on Facebook! it's fun to interact there.

FTC Disclosure: When there are links that go to another website, they are usually affiliate links. That means if you choose to buy, I'll get a small commission. Your purchase helps cover the costs of this website, plus, you get fabulous material that can save you money and keep your dogs healthy. It's a win win! :)

Back to Back Issues Page